Pioneering British physicist Stephen Hawking passed away yesterday at the age of 76. He’ll be forever remembered for both his outstanding contributions to science and the way he tirelessly championed them to the public. But we’ll also remember him for his wonderful contributions to the pop culture we love – through his lifetime of cameo appearances.
Professor Stephen Hawking, Theoretical Physicist and apparent master poker player. Screenshot: Star Trek: The Next Generation (CBS)
Making appearances on everything from The Simpsons to Big Bang Theory, Hawkings’ wit and humour allowed him to share his groundbreaking work in theoretical physics with even an wider audience, inspiring new generations with his passion and desire to understand the universe. As we remember him today, here are a few of our favourite moments from Hawking’s vast pop culture resume.
Hawking alongside his fellow Vice Presidential Action Rangers in promo art for “Anthology of Interest I”. Image: Matt Groening (Fox)
On Futurama, Hawking was one was one of the series’ beloved celebrity heads-in-a-jar as well as a member of Al Gore’s timeline-guarding Vice Presidential Action Rangers (alongside Dungeons and Dragons creator Gary Gygax, IBM’s Deep Blue computer, and Star Trek‘s Nichelle Nichols, naturally). Season two’s “Anthology of Interest I” provided arguably his funniest turn on the series, thanks to his running joke of glibly taking credit for any scientific discovery he comes across – and naming it after himself – while trying to ensure Fry doesn’t destroy the timeline.
Even more than Futurama, Hawking will always be remembered for his other collaboration with Matt Groening: Four separate appearances on The Simpsons. The physicist once joked that more people knew him for these appearances than his scientific works – in particular his first in season 10’s “They Saved Lisa’s Brain”, in which Hawking shows up to save Lisa from Springfield’s dysfunctional chapter of Mensa in a tricked out wheelchair (that he mainly uses to punch people with a comical boxing glove attachment).
He’d go on to make smaller appearances in another three episodes of the show between its 16th and 22nd seasons: “Don’t Fear the Roofer”, “Stop or My Dog Will Shoot”, and “Elementary School Musical”, in which he rapped with Flight of the Conchords, as you do.
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Hawking’s most recent cameo occurred just last week, when he made his debut as the titular Hitchhiker’s guide in BBC Radio 4’s adaptation of the sixth novel in Douglas Adams’ sci-fi series, And Another Thing…, which reveals that the Guide previously lived as the actual Hawking, keeping his voice in its latest form. You can listen to the first two episodes here.
The Big Bang Theory
Whether you love or loathe the biggest nerd-sitcom on the planet, Hawking played a memorable antagonistic role to Sheldon Cooper in multiple appearances, toying with expectations to portray himself as a petty rival to Sheldon’s own scientific prowess. Bet you never thought you’d hear Hawking make a joke about black holes and sucking!
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Perhaps his most beloved appearance in sci-fi, however, comes in Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s season six episode “Descent, Part I”, in which a young Hawking plays himself in hologram form. Joining some of the greatest scientific minds of Earth’s history – Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein – Hawking plays poker (and wins) as part of a program created by Data to better understand humanity. Hawking made several other fictional contributions to Trek (the Enterprise-D had two different shuttles named after him), but he remains the only real person to actually portray themselves in Star Trek history, outside of stock footage.